10 Ways to Upgrade Your Squat to Burn More Calories—and Tighten Your Backside
Add weights, change your stance, or try these other modifications to kick squats into high gear to burn more calories, engage multiple muscle groups, and challenge your strength and flexibility.
“This squat is good for working on proper form,” says Crystal Wright, former Freeskiing world champ and owner of Wright Training in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Start by cupping a kettlebell with both hands, holding it upside down with the handle pointing toward the floor. Keeping the kettlebell close to your chest, and elbows pointing down, lower into a squat, going as low as possible and allowing your elbows to brush the inside of your knees. Slowly stand up, keeping your upper body still. “Holding the kettlebell at your chest helps keep you upright so you do not use your back,” says Wright. Check out these 15 easy ways to burn 100 calories.
Squat with overhead press
Also known as the “thruster,” this total body exercise works the lower body and engages the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Holding the dumbbells next to your shoulders, elbows pointing forward, squat down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Using your legs, push your body up from the squat and thrust the dumbbells overhead, finishing with the dumbbells above your shoulders and your biceps by your ears. “Use the upward drive from your legs to produce momentum for the overhead press,” says Jonathan Ross, American Council on Exercise (ACE) Senior Consultant and owner of Aion Fitness in Washington D.C. “It allows you to use a heavier weight and gives your legs more work.”
In most squatting movements you slow down as you get to the top of the range of motion so you don’t hyper extend your joints, but with the jump squat you accelerate at the top of the movement, transferring strength into power. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, perform a squat, and then push forcefully off both feet and jump, raising the arms overhead. “Continue to accelerate through the upward motion, reaching your fastest speed as you push off the floor,” say Josiah Middaugh, a former XTERRA World Champion and founder of Middaugh Coaching in Vail, Colorado. “Focus on ‘triple extension’ by extending hips, knees, and ankles explosively.” Land softly and smoothly back into the squat, making sure you land on the entire foot.
“The pulse squat adds intensity to a traditional squat,” says Ross. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower into a squat. At the bottom of the movement, pause and perform a series of three to five small pulses up and down. “Maintaining a bend in the knees and hips keeps the muscles working continuously rather than allowing them to rest as they would at the top of a traditional squat, says Ross.” Increase resistance by adding weight or stand on a Bosu ball to work on stability.
Bulgarian split squat
The Bulgarian split squat builds single-leg strength, improves balance and coordination, and increases hip mobility. To begin, place your back foot on an exercise bench and then perform a squat on your front leg, keeping 80 percent of the weight on the forward foot. “Keep the feet straight and knees aligned with feet,” says Ross. “As you rise from the bottom think of squeezing the thighs together (even though they will stay separated) as this creates more action in the deep hip muscles, leading to less strain on the knees and a stronger core.” Make sure that you’re not doing these exercise moves that actually work against you.
Walking side squat
“Adding elastic resistance to the lateral movement works the outer hip muscles (gluteus medius) more than regular squats,” says Ross. Slip a resistance band above each ankle and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart so the band is taught. Keeping your gaze forward, lower into a half-squat, shift your weight onto one leg and side step with the other leg. Perform a series of side steps, then switch to the other leg.
Single leg squat
Not for the faint of heart, the single-leg squat is one of the most difficult squat types to master. “Performing a single leg squat correctly requires balance and strength in all planes of motion,” says Middaugh. To begin, extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height, plant one foot solidly on the ground and extend the other leg straight out in front of you. Squat as low as you can go without letting your hip drop or your knee to rotate inward. “Watch your knee and pelvis in the mirror and keep your hip, knee, and ankle in the same plumb line,” says Middaugh. If you have difficulty performing the move, grab hold of a TRX strap or pole to reduce the load. Try these exercises for a firm tush.
Squat with front kick
Adding a kick to your squat adds an element of fun, ups your cardio, and helps improve coordination and balance. Perform a squat and as you stand up, shift your weight to one leg and kick the other leg out straight in front. “Keep the stance leg long and straight and avoid kicking too high,” says Ross. Perform the movement slowly at first to assess your balance and control. “Faster movement makes it easier to hide instability and lack of balance.”
Taking cues from the ballet bar, the graceful plié squat is a great way to strengthen your glutes and inner thighs, says Wright. Start with in a wide second position stance with your feet turned out at least 45 degrees. Keeping your shoulders in line with your hips, slowly bend your knees to 90 degrees, tracking your knees over your feet. Pause at the bottom of the movement and then rise slowly back to stand. “You can add stability to this move by putting your foot on a Bosu,” says Wright.
Kettlebell front squats
A notch above the goblet squat, the kettlebell front squat requires coordination, core strength, and leg power. Hold a kettlebell in each hand in front of your shoulders as if you were doing a bicep curl, keeping your arms close to the body. Stand with feet shoulder width or slightly wider and then lower into the squat, keeping the back straight and eyes forward. As you squat, push your knees out so you can squat between your legs. Rise to stand by driving through your heels. “Like the goblet squat, this squat keeps you from breaking at the waist,” says Wright. “Be sure to take a deep breath in as you go down and exhale on the way up.”